Culture: Diversity and Inclusion

When we’re working with organizational culture we aim to develop a culture that helps the organization achieve its goals and be successful in the long run.


Psychological safety is an essential ingredient of a positive and productive culture. This safety helps people to speak their mind, contribute energy and ideas, be transparent and open, and take action as they feel ownership or responsibility.
Let’s summarize this as engagement. It’s the opposite of what you see in unsafe cultures where hiding and hoarding is the norm, pointing to others or external causes, not speaking your mind but staying safe in the shadows: disengagement prevails.

It’s not hard to see why successful organizations are safe: hiding and hoarding slows everyone and everything down, and bad ideas could be implemented because no one speaks up. On the other side, is what Steven Covey called “the speed of trust”. When it’s safe, it’s easy to share objections or disadvantages and improve plans before they are implemented. It’s easy to share ideas and energy and take action and be a “market-forward” organization.


Another ingredient of a positive, successful culture is called “diversity and inclusion”. That’s not just the latest fad. More than 75% of Fortune 1000 companies started diversity initiatives as it’s proven to lead to better results and perceived as being market-forward – and the right thing to do.

Workplace diversity is understanding, accepting, and valuing differences between people. Think of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations, but also in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases.

Inclusion is a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. That’s what I call a positive, productive culture.

The next step is belonging, as the saying goes: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.”
Belonging means that people can be authentic and bring their “whole selves” to work, not just their professional persona. But let’s talk about that some other time.

Diversity and inclusion contribute to the competitive advantage of an organization when multiple view points are taken into account before decisions are made. Diversity and inclusion can lift the financial bottom line, but it’s just like culture: It works if you work it. There’s a gap between saying and doing.


It takes work to become aware of your wold view, and how others might be different. Think of a time that you were surprised by someone’s response to your plan or decision. Did you assume that this person would see the situation like you? Wasn’t it obvious what needed to be done? We often have an unconscious assumption that everyone perceives the facts as we do. Just pay attention and you’ll see! This happens to all of us, especially when we’re busy.


It takes work to accept that your way is not, by definition, the best or the only way. Here’s the next step: accept and appreciate the different approaches that others suggest. Be open to how other people see the facts, be curious. How come…? What would happen if…? How could it improve if…? Consider Appreciative Inquiry and foster true interest in others.
Easier said than done, right?


It takes work to appreciate and adopt the suggestions offered by others. Is it your way or the highway? Or can you see merit in another idea, adopt and implement that? Are you good enough as a leader when you implement your employee’s idea? Do you need to re-evaluate your self-worth and adopt a new definition of a good leader?

Could it be that the best leaders adopt the best ideas – regardless of the source? Maybe this takes courage in your culture. I invite you to re-define what leadership means and what is “the best”.

These are just some examples of what it entails to truly embrace and embody diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace. It requires personal work, especially by leaders. Diversity doesn’t work if it’s part of the mission statement. It works if it is applied.

Over the years, I have worked with many organizations and the awareness, appreciation and adoption of diversity has been part of every process, even if it was implicit. There are lots of approaches to identify, understand and accept differences and utilize them.

Identity Iceberg

Here’s a simple exercise for a team meeting. Please use this exercise only if your team is safe enough and make sure that people show respect for each other and this exercise. Agree to some rules before you start, and make safety explicit.
Keep a time bell at hand to guarantee fair sharing of speaking time.

  1. Show the identity iceberg (see the image) and ask people to think, share, and pair.
  2. Think 2 minutes: what’s hidden from your iceberg, that others don’t know?
  3. Share and exchange this with one other; 5 minutes per person. What new insights do you get about each other?
  4. Next, pair with someone that you expect to be very different than yourself. Share and exchange 5 minutes per person. What new insights do you get about each other?
  5. Share in the whole team what you learned from this exercise: 1 minute per speaker. Don’t talk about others (“I learned that Jim loves football”) – reflect what you personally learned. “I tend to assume that everyone is like me.”

It might also be helpful to use the Johari window with this exercise:
What is known to yourself and to others is obvious.
What is known to yourself but not to others is hidden. (Can you share?)
What is unknown to yourself but known to others is your blind spot. (Can you learn?)
What is unknown to yourself and to others is a mystery.

You might be surprised what people learn, and how this can help with team bonding. People become aware and accept differences. The next step is helping your team appreciate differences and adopt others’ ideas.

Do you want to learn developing the culture at work? Join the next Culture Change Leadership Workshop: a 2.5 day-intensive to develop a more positive organization.

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

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